Dr Dhananjay Datar, Chairman and Managing Director, Al Adil Trading uses more than three decades of experience to foresee specific sectoral trend
What has been your biggest challenge as the head of Al Adil? And how did you face it?
Maintaining food stocks for a product inventory as unique as ours, dealing as we are in novel Indian food grains, pulses and produce imported from India, is I feel a challenge that our brand deals with on a regular basis. We import more than 8,000 different products from India, from regions as diverse as Kashmir to Kanyakumari. My task was to set up a central collection point for all this diverse produce, which we set up in Vashi in Mumbai. For me quality and price are equally important. It should not be that an insufficient amount of inventory should lead to a rise in product price, so I try to ensure that my inventory and pricing are always on point, and it’s a fine balance that I am proud to say that I have maintained.
Al Adil had to make swift changes during Covid so as not to affect consumers and business. How did you manage the crisis?
I have been running this business for 32 years and was present when the region suffered from the Gulf War. What that event taught me was that firstly, we needed to maintain inventory to meet customer demands while also ensuring that prices did not rise during the crisis. During the pandemic this year, our wholesale business did suffer considering we supply to some of the big hotel chains as well as restaurants, and the hospitality industry did suffer because of the global lockdown and reduction in tourist footfalls. However, we rechannelled those resources into our retail arm and replenished stocks just so our retail consumers did not have to suffer. Secondly, we had to ensure that there was enough money in our account to ensure our staff continued to receive their salaries on time for up to a year, when the chips were down. We all have families and dependents and money is required when it matters the most. I therefore had a contingency plan to fall back on when the pandemic struck this year and I am happy to say that my experience ensured that there were no job losses at my company due to Covid, and all my staff members received their salaries in full even as we faced this critical phase in our lives.
Despite so many challenges, the grocery industry has done pretty well amid the Covid-19 pandemic. What key changes do you see for the grocery industry?
There have been changes wrought in the food retail sector and this I feel is for the better, with more emphasis now being seen in e-retail. Al Adil also moved with the times and we invested considerable resources to redesign our website and make it even more consumer friendly, allowing our valued customers to make online purchases. We have seen a lot of traction in this sector and it has definitely added to our bottom line. The fact that we also have tie-ups with third-party delivery service providers such as Talabat, Instashop and NowNow complement our very own online service delivery model.
What buying habits are the most influential drivers of change in the store? How are you preparing for it?
People are now on the lookout for healthy food and organic produce has been a thing for a few years now. However, with the onset of the pandemic, people are even more focused on procuring healthy, organic produce. For Al Adil, the very nature of our business exemplifies organic produce offerings such as varieties of multigrain atta (wheat), khapli atta (emmer wheat) and more. So, when the pandemic struck, we saw even larger movement in these stocks, and I feel this trend will be here to stay. Organic produce has a huge market globally as well as here in the UAE and I am glad to be considered as someone who pioneered this in my own small way.
You’ve always taken social responsibilty very seriously. Are there any specific initiatives you undertook during the crisis?
I have always considered CSR to be one of the strong pillars that supports this brand. With a lot of people losing their jobs during Covid, Al Adil made concrete efforts to reach out to many and provide help in their hour of need. We requested people to register with the Embassy so we could enable relief efforts through official channels by providing food and money where required and repatriation resources such as tickets to fly back home. Solving the recent Indian sailor crisis was also a CSR initiative, where 20 Indian sailors from various Indian states were confined in Yemen when they were rescued from sea after their ship sank during their journey from Mumbai to Muscat in Oman. Al Adil stepped up and managed to get in touch with the authorities and repatriate all 20 sailors to their homes back in India.
What are your future plans?
Al Adil has been fortunate enough to expand even during the toughest of times, and I would like to thank the UAE Rulers and the Government in this regard for enabling this to happen and allowing UAE businesses to thrive during one of the most critical times the world has seen in close to a century. In terms of expansion plans, we plan to open four more stores in the UAE next year. We currently run 34 stores. There are also plans to expand our current operations in Bahrain.